With production launches, from medical devices to automobiles, there are many intricacies and hiccups along the way. Each situation is different, but there are many common practices which are often overlooked. For example, each launch, no matter the product, involves some kind of manufacturing site, whether it be a plant or a lab, or some other production facility. Also, each launch involves a cost management scheme that allows for the launch in the first place – i.e., if the costs don’t make sense, then there wouldn’t be a product launch anyway. And depending on the complexity of the product and timeline, some items are skipped altogether.
No two product launches are identical, but they have the same underlying challenge: having everything come together as planned. This almost never happens, due to the several variables involved when launching a product, so to maximize your team’s opportunity, it’s vital to be as consistent as possible and to use any resources at your disposal to do so.
From our experience, the most valuable assets and strategies overlooked during production launches are the Plan for Every Part (PFEP), engineering change control, and inventory management. Below, we’ll discuss why these three supply chain elements are essential and how they’ll make your next product launch a success.
3 Supply Chain Elements Frequently Neglected During Production Launches
1. Plan for Every Part
A PFEP is one of the most important factors to ensure successful part management, yet it’s often the most neglected. The PFEP documents all relevant information for a given part and leads to the traceability of parts for the product. Which means accountability is built into the data and workflow.
In the event that multiple departments have various bills of materials (BOMs), a PFEP can also act as a conduit to find alignment and discrepancies amongst them all. Though multiple BOMs create more headaches, it’s a common practice for different departments to have separate versions, or “sub-BOMs” of a given BOM – e.g., an Engineering BOM, a Manufacturing BOM, and a Purchasing BOM. A good PFEP tool will be web-based and allow for bolt-on capabilities, like an application programming interface (API) to an organization’s PLM or MRP systems, whether larger scale like SAP, or smaller scale like one developed in house.
But the real benefit of using a PFEP to manage commercial information during a production launch is that it leads to less errors frequently seen with manual processes when using Excel, and it leads to simplicity and expedited efforts because of its included industry-standard columns and formulas. We’re all lacking time these days, so a cloud software tool that’s fast and easy to use is clutch.
PFEP should be implemented early in a product’s life cycle and should be present leading up to and during launch.
2. Engineering Change Control
In any product life cycle, most notably during pre-launch and shortly after launch, there are usually multiple changes to parts (some programs/products more than others). These changes can happen throughout the product’s life, from design to prototype, to launch. And a change management process goes hand-in-hand with a proper information flow.
All parties must effectively communicate when there’s a change relating to the product. This can be anything from a simple ECR Log to a robust change process that describes every aspect of the change. These changes must be properly implemented in the BOM by the appropriate party because there’s a lot of room for error when revision levels aren’t captured correctly, leading to incorrect parts being entered on purchase orders, issued to suppliers, and receiving outdated or wrong parts from suppliers. Proper approvals should be required in any change management process and then implemented into the BOM by a designated team member.
Another pain point for organizations is the maintenance of obsoleted products. When a product is obsoleted, it must be handled appropriately through the change management process and omitted from the BOM, accordingly. The change catalyst, if done properly, will track this visibility so you always have the activity history of a product, whether it was changed or obsoleted, and what it was replaced by (if anything). Instituting a proper change management process facilitates successful part management, which will lead to a better product launch.
3. Inventory Management
There’s no doubt that inventory management is important at any manufacturing site; however, the significance of sound processes, systems, control, and reporting is often overlooked in the early stages of a product launch.
The keys to an inventory control system include the proper system catalyst, organization of the product (raw, stamping, sub-assemblies, and finished goods), a cycle counting program, and most importantly, consistent production reporting and proper system part routing. Production reporting will make or break the inventory numbers. Ensure all members of the team have the proper training on how to production report at every part stop throughout the process until it goes out the door as a finished good.
Also, just as important, is the proper routing of parts in the BOM(s). If any item in the part routing is incorrect, then it won’t properly be stated in inventory due to improper backflushing. For example, if the finished product is a welded steel assembly, then it could go through multiple stages before it’s finished. It’ll likely start off as raw material of some sort and then into a stamped part, then gets nuts or fasteners welded to it, along with other potential stampings or sub-assemblies prior to being complete.
If the routings aren’t set up correctly, then the inventory numbers could be skewed all the way back to the steel coil that produced the stamped parts. Ensure the BOMs are set up correctly from the beginning and that each of your team members are properly trained in production reporting to avoid continuous physical inventory counts and to make your production launches much more successful.